noun: A large, thin, flat case for loose sheets of paper such as drawings or maps. (Oxford Dictionary)
While the definition of portfolio seems simple, the reality of putting together an art school portfolio seems mysterious and overwhelming. It’s hard to believe that one application requirement can raise so many questions. Students often ask questions like; “What’s a portfolio?”, “What are they really looking for?” “How do I sum up my skills?” “How will this weigh into my decision?”
Does this sound familiar? I know, as artists we’ve all been there, it’s a lot to take in— so let me begin by saying, applying to art school is hard. You need to prove yourself both academically and artistically. Your portfolio is your artistic transcript; it demonstrates your artistic prowess. It allows us to assess your skill set and ideas, and understand how our program can support you and propel you forward as an artist.
Your portfolio should represent you, who you are, share your interests, and reflect what you’ve been exposed to. It should be comprised of 15-20 pieces of your most recent, strongest work; work that talks about your skills and what you like to do with those skills that you’ve acquired. So yes, it is a good idea to have some pieces in your portfolio that speak to your range of technical skills across a range of media showing your strengths, while other pieces reflect your personal voice or conceptual investigations. It can contain works-in-progress and pieces brought to completion. Sorry, but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all recipe to follow. The portfolio is a reflection of you — it shows us who you are and how you synthesize the world around you. Remember, your portfolio is a curated snapshot of the work that you’ve completed to date — your artistic conversation began years before you even thought about preparing a “portfolio,” and this dialog will continue long after you hit submit in SlideRoom.
I know that this seems scary, I know you’re putting yourself out there in a way that isn’t easy, and I know it’s still a bit ambiguous. — so embrace the ambiguity and flex your creative problem-solving muscle. Don’t forget it’s your love, passion, and dedication to art and art making that has gotten you this far, so just let go and do what you love. As artist Agnes de Mille once said “The artist never entirely knows — We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark”. Just leap.